Synth-pop producer Merry Lamb Lamb experiments with autotune to create “hazy”, “feisty” and “chaotic” soundscapes
The producer takes us through the synth tricks and vocal stacking techniques used on her latest EP, ‘Exodus’
Merry Lamb Lamb
Merry Lamb Lamb is a Hong Kong-born, South London-based musician, songwriter and producer. As a self-proclaimed nomad who chooses to make music in her room away from burdensome bustling, uninspiring studios, she makes 80s-inspired club-ready synth-pop sounds laden with vocals sung in English, Cantonese and Mandarin. Following 2022’s Genesis album, Merry’s latest EP Exodus, out on Diplo’s Mad Decent label, drifts from dreamy trap beats to all-out high-tempo IDM and minimal wave house.
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With a hardware setup including a Roland TR-8S, Elektron Analog Keys, Roland GAIA and a Teenage Engineering OP-Z, Merry, along with her performing partner, Lung, who creates visuals for live shows, uses her creative space to do everything from producing to mixing and mastering. We speak to Merry Lamb Lamb and find out more about her music production process and how she used gear specifically for this EP.
Hey, Merry Lamb Lamb. We hear a range of genres such as house, IDM, trance and hyperpop in your music – what sounds are you inspired by?
Growing up, I listened to a lot of J-pop, J-anime, and J-electronica music. People like Namie Amuro, SPEED, and Perfume opened my vision to music. They’re people I’d only see on TV, wearing Barbie-like clothes, constantly dancing and waving at you. They are very utopian-like, almost out-of-this-world.
How do you use your studio?
My studio is versatile, and it’s where Lung and I do everything there to create the magic. We’re so used to DIYing everything we do, from music production and recording to mixing and mastering, from creating visuals to music video production and edits.
For workflow, I usually start with demos based on loops that I jammed with Lung on Ableton Live, field recordings on my iPhone or vulnerable poems I wrote in my diary. I start production based on those fragment ideas and go with it.
I don’t usually do a lot of live recordings; instead, I will use my iPhone to field-record instruments. I find it more interesting that way to add an extra texture or touch to the sound. In Tranquility, there’s an ambulance-like vocoder instrument in the chorus, where I recorded an ambulance on my phone and turned it into a groove.
Which DAW do you use?
I find Ableton Live fun to use because there’s no structure or a frame for producing – you can create out-of-this-world soundscapes by using Granulator II or Beat Repeat, and start from there. I like how natural and instant it is to produce songs on Ableton Live.
What’s your favourite piece of gear?
I enjoy using my Elektron Analog Keys a lot. When I first used it, I was shocked at how powerful and convenient it was to use as a drum machine and synthesizer simultaneously. I also love to use it as an acid bassline and an ethereal synth lead.
What synth or effect can be heard the most on your new release?
Many of the synths and bass lines you’ve heard on the EP are from my favourite Elektron Analog Keys. I use only 3-4 synths and bass sounds, such as violin pads, piano melodic pads and 808 basslines, to produce the whole EP. I love to limit my equipment and try not to lean on DAWs so I force myself to be more creative.
Throughout the EP, I incorporated many amp effects into my synth leads, vocals and field recordings. Effects like Screamer and CLA Effects are my favourite ones to use. In the song Tranquility, I used a lot of vocal stacking with guitar amp effects in the second chorus to create a more dynamic and intense feeling to the music.
How do you use autotune as an effect on your voice?
I’ve used a lot of auto-tune throughout this EP but I never used that much autotune before on my first album Genesis. Reflecting on what I’ve produced, I’ve found that using autotune might be a unique way and an open gate to accentuate my airy voice.
I like how autotune creates a mysterious aura. It can be used as a fun instrument to play around with. In slower and more moody songs like Romantic and Night, I used autotune with more delay to create a hazy effect. In Tranquility, I incorporate an angry and feisty element into it. I added autotune to my panned left and right vocal stackings to produce a more chaotic and stressful feeling to dynamise the song. On experimental parts that come in on Empathy, I chopped off many of my unwanted autotune vocals, reversed them using a granulator and stacked them up to create a soundscape.
How did you use layers of your voice to create soundscapes in Empathy?
I used chopped samples from old demos and transformed them into an almost alien-like language as an ad-lib. I intentionally picked out old demos I felt ashamed to show people and reversed them.
I also recorded ghost-like ad-libs and stacked them up into five to ten audio tracks, layering them and panning them severely with Auto Pan towards the back of the song. I like to use Auto Pan a lot; it feels like a delay to me but with a more potent punch and bounce-back feeling to it, which I love.
What is next on your shopping list studio-wise?
I’m constantly on the gear hunt on sites like Thomann and want to buy everything from there. But if there’s one thing I want to buy, it’s a Moog Grandmother. I’ve been using my Korg Monologue a lot for basslines, but it’s time to upgrade to a more bass-centric synthesizer.
What is your top piece of production advice?
Don’t overdo things on production; try to finish a song within a month, trust your instinct and where it’s taking you, be confident about what you’re producing, and let go of your ego.
And it’s okay to fail a bit sometimes because you will eventually learn from your mistakes. Remember and reflect on that, and grow.
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